To some, eSports might seem like a euphemism employed to mask the guilty-but-enjoyable vice known by most as, simply, video games. To Jakita and Erich Thomas, the founders of Atlanta-based Pharaoh’s Conclave (PCX), eSports is the industry to watch in the coming years, with annual revenue on pace to eclipse $1 billion in 2019 — more than double an estimated $493 million in 2015.
But the Thomases see a problem to solve in the eSports industry: fracture. They founded PCX in 2014 to bridge the many gaps they saw in the ecosystem, focusing on engaging and funneling K-12 and collegiate gaming talent to the right pockets of the sprawling eSports sphere.
“If you think about it, eSports really is the ultimate STEAM field — when you think about science, technology, electronics, arts and mathematics — because it provides that pathway for future generations to get that exposure to STEAM,” Jakita, who is a professor in Auburn College of Engineering, explains. “So you can think of eSports as not only a medium for entertainment, but it’s also a medium for learning and one that can promote real future careers.”
Jakita’s teaching includes a game design course, among others. Erich is a former educator as well, having taught middle and high school mathematics and science. With PCX, the two are looking to leverage their experience teaching young people and reconcile K-12 infatuation with gaming into real opportunity.
One example? On Friday, gamers from across the country will descend in Atlanta for DreamHack, the “largest LAN (local area network) party in the world,” according to the Guinness Book of World Records. Over 20,000 people are expected to attend the festival, which is making its first-ever stop in Atlanta.
Among these will be a group of high school students that PCX has rallied for a student invitational — also a first for the three-day gaming event. Running in conjunction with DreamHack, the Georgia High School eSports invitational (GHSei) will feature industry-focused panels and workshops on topics like “Women in Gaming” and “The Business of eSports.”
It will also host a “technology talent recruitment pipeline” expo, hosted by the Social Change Youth Foundation, where students can learn about everything from universities offering gaming-focused degree programs to development and equipment innovations and media opportunities within the industry.
Those professional opportunities for the most serious gamers are niche, but growing. According to Newzoo’s Global eSports Market Report, there are an estimated 148 million “eSports enthusiasts” in the world and nearly a quarter of American male millennials watch eSports (a viewership almost equal to that of baseball and hockey among the same demographic). Despite that, just 18 eSports pros made professional-athlete-sized paychecks last year, collecting more than $500,000 in prize money. Fewer than 200 topped $100,000 in gaming earnings.
But just like any other sport, the eSports ecosystem has breadth and spans beyond its most transcendent members. The PCX founders point to all of the various supporting arms of the industry, from streaming to game design and development to hardware manufacturers. As the money continues to pour in and the audience size grows, opportunists are pouncing.
Jakita and Erich want students and parents to see the multiplying growth and possibility noticed by companies like Amazon, which acquired eSports streaming platform Twitch.tv for nearly $1 billion.
And beyond financial and vocational opportunity, PCX sees social impact potential in the eSports ecosystem. They facilitated a “hackathon for social change” as part of the invitational. On Sunday, July 23, students will “ideate, design, and develop solutions to bring awareness and action around ending violence in all forms,” combatting a long-held grievance parents of gamers have with the games their children play.
“From an education perspective, we actually want to leverage gaming as an opportunity for students to explore these types of issues,” Jakita explains. “When you talk about game development, specifically, we can explore issues like cyber bullying and gun violence and have conversations around them through the context of having kids, themselves, design games that address those issues, and allows parents to know that their children are thinking critically and circumspectly about those important issues.”
Finally, another hallmark of the weekend’s GHSei is a competitive team tournament. Students from Atlanta’s The LIFE School will face off against students from Tucker High in a five-game medley. Like with swimming or track, different students will specialize in different game events for their team, competing against one another in League of Legends, Hearthstone, Overwatch, Super Smash Bros., and Call of Duty.
Erich says the high school teams are not officially sanctioned by the schools, but PCX will be working with high schools to get invitationals like the one at DreamHack funded and recognized by schools moving forward.
Erich and Jakita are hopeful that this weekend’s events at DreamHack will be a boost forward in their mission to connect, educate and inspire the next generation in its pursuits and interests in the eSports world.
Learn more about DreamHack Atlanta, the latest event held by the world’s largest digital festival, here.
Photos via DreamHack and PCX.